World Cup year finally here

SO here it is, World Cup year is finally here, and we need a rugby ball-shaped miracle if we are going to be able to hold on to the title of world champions, writes Dave Carey.

SO here it is, World Cup year is finally here, and we need a rugby ball-shaped miracle if we are going to be able to hold on to the title of world champions, writes Dave Carey.

Ever since reaching its peak, when Jonny Wilkinson scored that last- minute drop goal in Australia more than three years ago, England rugby has seen a steady, heart-breaking decline. Community clubs however, have seen a massive boost in numbers, and media coverage of the sport has increased greatly.

The massive coverage of the 2003 World Cup, along with the media focus on stars such as Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson, who became rugby's David Beckham, brought the 15-man game to a whole new audience.

What was once seen as a public schoolboy's game became everyman's sport almost overnight. The reception that met the England squad on their return from Australia was more than enough to prove this.

This year's World Cup, to be held in France, will be a tough test for a team that has seen many changes over the last few years.

Most of the big names have retired, while Jonny Wilkinson has seen a

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horrendous run of injuries that have kept him out of the white shirt since that heart-stopping moment more than three years ago.

But first we have the Six Nations tournament, held in February and March, and this will give new coach Brian Ashton a good indicator of what he and his men can achieve in France during the autumn.

Wilkinson will be hoping to stay injury free, and will have a tough task proving that he is the best man for the number ten shirt.

At its grassroots level, rugby is still going from strength to strength, and our clubs will be looking to cash in on the year ahead. Interest in the sport is expected to increase, enabling our teams to boost their squads.

It's going to be an interesting year, so keep an eye on this column for all the latest news from your local rugby scene in 2007.

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